[The Turning Point] Love for sports and technology led childhood friends to create Dream11, India’s first gaming unicorn
Local fantasy sports platform, which is making headlines amid the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL), was started by sports fans Harsh Jain and Bhavit Sheth in 2008 as a passionate project.
Dream11’s journey began 14 years ago, when childhood friends Harsh and Bhavit, who were also avid sports fans and engineers, started the company with the firm belief that fantasy sports leagues would become a great business opportunity in a country of several billion cricket fans.
The duo wanted to create a platform for sports fans as they felt that there was “no fantastic sports culture in the country despite millions of sports enthusiasts.”
Dream11 is one of the fantastic sports games apps by Dream sports, and allows users to build a fantastic team based on a real match like IPL to score maximum points and win exciting cash prizes. A user can own a team on the platform and compete with other fans using their sports knowledge.
The idea to launch Dream11 took shape in 2008, when IPL was launched.
Around this time, Harsh, who already knew the fun of playing Fantasy EPL football since 2001, started looking for a similar platform to play fantasy cricket online in India. He was shocked to learn that fantasy cricket did not exist in India, where cricket is a religion and ardently followed by millions of Indians.
Determined to solve this problem, Harsh, an alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia Business School, asked his friends if they wanted to join him on this quest. This eventually led him to co-found Dream11 in 2009 with Bhavit, a Bentley University and Harvard University alumnus.
Harsh Jain, CEO and Co-Founder, Dream Sports
Bhavit and Harsh were both passionate about sports, games, technology and Dream11 was simply an extension of their love.
In a previous conversation with Your story, Harsh said he was shocked that in a country with a billion sports fans, there are no fantastic sports at all. For him, the idea of his startup came as a solution to a personal problem.
In fact, until 2012, Harsh and Bhavit ran a branding and digital marketing services agency called Red Digital to support Dream11, then a passionate little project. He recalled that the service business was a way to make ends meet and provided the team with liquidity.
“It allowed me to continue to insist on not going back to my father and telling him that you were right and that I was begging for money or that I had to shut it down,” Harsh said.
The duo started experimenting with different formats on Dream11 and pivoted several times over a three-year period, before finally finding a product market suitable for single-match, freemium-based fantasy sports in 2012.
In 2013, Dream11 started seeing many organic users for the first time without spending any money on marketing. Organic users have started to return. Each new user invited two friends, and the referrals helped grow the business.
Over the years, Dream11 has grown into the biggest sports games platform in India, offering several sports such as fantasy cricket, soccer, kabaddi, basketball, etc. Six years later, in 2019, the company acquired unicorn status.
Today, the fantasy games startup has over 11 crore users and over 40 sports associations and leagues as official partners, including the International Cricket Council (ICC), the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), the Indian Super League (ISL), National Basketball. Association (NBA), Caribbean Premier League (CPL), International Hockey Federation (FIH) and Big Bash League (BBL).
Parent company Dream Sports also manages and owns brands such as FanCode, DreamX, and DreamSetGo. The Mumbai-based company is trying to build a sports ecosystem in India and recently set up a $ 250 million enterprise venture capital (CVC) fund, DreamCap, to invest in sports, gaming startups online and fitness technologies. The corpus is financed by Dream Sports’ own balance sheet.
Last year, in a LinkedIn post, Harsh wrote that “through thick and thin, highs and lows, funding and near halt, expansion and contraction, sun and rain, I know we will continue to stand strong because Dream Sports #CantStopWontStop until we have fulfilled our mission to “make sport better” in every way possible “.